2024 African American Read-In engages, empowers, educates community

Watch this year's African American Read-In below

One of Jaztus’ biggest goals for the 2024 African American Read-In was to deliver eloquent lines during his group’s presentation.

Jaztus, a fifth-grade student at Belmont Elementary School, beamed as he and other members of the Belmont Community Scholars made that happen.“It makes you feel great,” he said. “It makes you feel like you’re in the right place and you always will.”

Students and adults from across Lincoln wore similar expressions during the 11th-annual event. Dozens of people came to the Steve Joel District Leadership Center to hear inspirational speeches, poetry, songs and quotes. They celebrated the rich contributions African Americans have made in literature and fine arts.

Ten members of the Belmont Community Scholars group delivered one of the day’s highlights with a performance of “Justice Is.” Jaztus said having a chance to take part in the read-in was a memorable experience in his life.

Peter Ferguson, coordinator of culture, inclusion and scholar development at Lincoln Public Schools, said he was pleased to see a wide range of people participate. The read-in was a shared effort between LPS and Lincoln City Libraries (LCL). William Bryant, student advocate for the African American community at LPS, and Ferguson organized the event alongside city and school library staff members.

“I really do strive for a combination, because I don’t want us to be hidden figures,” Ferguson said. “We shouldn’t be hidden figures.”

Bryant joined many people who read poetry, quotes and excerpts from books. Presenters included LPS staff and several community members from a variety of industries ranging from higher education to the military. 

Singing was also prominently featured. Northwest High School students Imari and Dacia wowed the crowd with a vocal performance from “The Color Purple,” and everyone stood as Lincoln resident Keyara Taylor delivered “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Tresa Wilson said she was excited to take part in the read-in for the first time. Wilson serves as the special education coordinator at Southeast High School. She has taught in elementary, middle and high schools for 28 years and has helped many groups across the United States. She said it was important to show others the value of education in their lives.

“Education opened wide doors for me to go places and do things I never thought I would do,” Wilson said. “It all started with reading and just learning.”

LPS Director of Library Services Chris Haeffner told the audience the read-in symbolized the fact that “stories matter.” Wilson shared how Olympic sprinting champion Wilma Rudolph had inspired her during her childhood.“Stories help us define ourselves and help define the world around us,” Haeffner said.

Ferguson said hearing stories from LPS students enriched the entire event. He said their role is “absolutely essential” for the read-in each year.

“To talk about our history and talk about Black history and talk about the history of the United States and exclude young people and marginalize them? You’re doing a tremendous disservice,” Ferguson said. “Because they have been instrumental not only in the past but in the present, and they are definitely instrumental in the future.”

Wilson and Ferguson also said it was critical for libraries to include items from all backgrounds and perspectives. LPS Department of Library Services provides both print and digital versions of the MOSAIC multicultural book collection for students in every grade. LCL also features a wide variety of authors on shelves across the city.

“When you don’t have representation, kids start to think, ‘Well, there’s nobody like me,’” Wilson said. “When they do see it, it’s ‘Oh, there is somebody like me. I can learn about this person, this person. There’s a lot of people that are out there that I can learn about in history.’ It gives them a sense of, ‘Okay, I can do this. I’m not the only one.’”

“We can have Jaztus go to a library or bookstore and see himself,” Ferguson said. “He can go in a classroom and see himself. And not just see himself but be himself and learn about himself and know that everyone is valued.”

Ferguson hoped the read-in would promote many positive conversations throughout Lincoln in the days and months to follow.

“That is my call to act,” Ferguson said. “We want to walk with each other towards equity and civility and justice and kindness.”

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Published: February 13, 2024, Updated: February 14, 2024

LPS fifth-grade student Jaztus performs with the Belmont Community Scholars at this year's African American Read-In. People from across the Lincoln area took part in the annual event.